Ben took a few minutes to answer some of my questions about his refill and his process.
This refill is obviously fueled by nostalgia. Were there any particular sounds from the era that stood out for you as being necessary for this refill?
Oddly enough it didn't start out with the nostalgia in mind. I'd just been wandering around 4 or 5 Reason forums and kept seeing the same question in every one: "How do I make "x" sound from song "y?" I always tried to answer these posts, thinking that even if I didn't get it exactly right, I'd be learning as I went. Did that for who knows how long before I realized I loved doing it, so I picked a year at random and checked out the end of the year billboard chart to see what songs were in there. It started becoming nostalgic after I was listening to all these great songs from when I was a kid in order to pick the instruments. You automatically connect them with specific memories and get a little lost in your mind. It becomes even more fun when I finish an instrument and get to try to learn how to play the song -- occasionally well enough that it might be slightly recognizable.
When it came down to it I included every sound from the year that I could make with synths, so there are a few songs that didn't get represented in the refill because they were recorded entirely with guitars, etc. There were also a few that used the same sound as another song, so those didn't get included. Thinking about it now though, there are a couple instruments that had to be there aside from those in the standard ultra-popular songs: the bass (pretty sure it's a minimoog) in Starpoint's Object Of My Desire was one of those. I don't even remember that song being on the radio, but that bass is perfection in the studio version of the song. Another was that clanky synth in John Parr's Naughty Naughty -- the sound just screams 1985. Well, that sound and John's incredible mullet. That was a tough one because it's layered over a bass playing the same notes a good part of the time.
How did you go about creating your emulations for these classic sounds?
It really came down to having a song playing in the background, opening up a Thor with an analog oscillator and finding the basic wave that matched most closely. Sometimes it's instantly apparent that you're listening to a saw with a quick filter on it, for example. From there it's a matter of additional oscillators and little tweaks to get it just right, but sometimes it can be like playing Jenga: sounds are so well blended that if you try to pull one out the others fall apart. There were cases where I brought songs into Adobe Audition (3.0) in order to use the program's spectral frequency display, where you can visually select notes and frequency ranges to delete them. It's not perfect, but it can be helpful when you're trying to hear instruments that were obscured in the mix. You reach a certain point where the stack of Jenga blocks is swaying back and forth, and that's when you move into Reason. Then it's a matter of moving left to right in Thor, oscillators to filters to envelopes and LFOs to effects. When it's done I try to program the Combinator to either have the options I would want or that the instrument came with, assuming I can find out what it was. Sometimes that's a mystery and it's fun to make it do weird things that people won't expect when they bump the Mod Wheel or click a button.
Were there any sounds that you wanted to create, but just couldn't get right? Can we expect to hear them in an update or follow up refill?
Oh there were a bunch of those, and they were nearly all drums. This was just before Reason 5 came out so Kong wasn't available. I played around making drums using Thor off and on, but there's only so much you can do that way. I'll definitely be revisiting 1985 to get that worked out eventually, at which point I'll post it with a really cheap upgrade price.
There was at least one sound that was giving me fits though. The strings in Raspberry Beret. It seems simple, but at the time I could have sworn it was evil. Hopefully I've learned a couple tricks since then that will allow me to hit it just right. I will pin that one down even if I have to... okay, no, I'm not going to go and try locating Prince.
Wow, this got a little long-winded, didn't it? I may need to get out more.
Thanks for giving us a look at your process, Ben, and providing Reason Patch A Day with its first potential kidnapping threat.
- 3rd Floor Sound - Cathedral Monster ( Combinator )
- 3rd Floor Sound - Massive Organ ( Combinator )
- 3rd Floor Sound - So In Love ( Combinator )
If you're interested in learning more about the 1985 Refill or purchasing another refill, including the new Theory Refill, you can find more information at 3rd Floor Sound.